8 May 2010

The Love Story Behind The Taj

I have always asked myself where in the world I could find a building so magnificent. Standing about one kilometre away from the Taj in Agra, India, I could already see the top of the white marble structure reflecting off rays of sunlight.

The Taj Mahal was built by the fifth emperor of the Mughal dynasty, Shah Jahan, in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and was built over a 22 year period beginning in 1632. This huge mausoleum was built to serve of the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal. It is said that many tourists have been touched by the magnificent love story behind the Taj. This place is definitely the highlight of most people’s visit to India and for sure, it’s mine as well.

Travellers are warned prior to actually departing to visit the place that they are not allowed to bring not only edibles, but also any form of stationary. As I listened to the explanation given by my guide, Faraz Khan, the reason behind this rule was really something I never thought of, but made sense. In the past, many visitors have tried to copy the designs on the walls of the main tomb where photography is not allowed. Having heard that, I started to wonder “are the designs that beautiful?”

As the bus pulled over, there was no sign of the Taj yet. That was when I found out that the Indian government blocked out the area within one kilometre radius of the Taj as a pollution-free zone. Polluted air causes the white marble of the building to turn yellow. This was one of the many efforts of the Indian Archaeological Survey to preserve their Wonder of the World.

It wouldn’t be as hospitable as the rest of India if they got us to walk a kilometre. Visitors can catch a ride on one of the electric cars which run all day long. From the drop-off point of the electric cars, it’s actually just a short walk to the entrance, but for some, this walk may seem long. Mr. Khan told us not to buy anything from the thousands of people trying to sell you all sorts of things. From drinks to souvenirs, if you ask the price, basically, you have to buy. Best not to buy for a very simple reason, they will rip you off! Sounded like a very sensible reason to me.

When I reached the West Gate of the Entry Gardens, I had to wait in line for security screening, another effort of the Indians to make sure that the Taj stays intact.

As soon as I got passed the security screening, I came face to face with a magnificent structure which in my opinion can be a monument in itself. The atmosphere suddenly becomes grand! We then slowly approached the grand entrance, ready to come face to face with the magnificent marble structure.

I don’t know if this is common, but when you see the Taj for the first time right in front of you, the first word that comes into your mind isn’t “amazing” or “spectacular” but rather “love” or “romance”! The magnificence of the mausoleum is just beyond words. Knowing the love story behind it, it’s amazing how all this was built for a wife who we should note down is dead! The long fountain that stretches down the gardens only makes the place more beautiful. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures in front of the Taj before making the long walk to the sacred tomb.

As you get closer and listen more to the story, you begin to notice how the little details that make it much more beautiful. As I reached ten meters away from the marble structure, it was time to wrap our shoes with some cloth. I didn’t want to risk losing my Nike sneakers while inside the main tomb. It was a good alternative for people who aren’t risks-takers like me!

Walk up the 22 steps and you get closer to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal and her husband. The time has come to enter the sacred tomb!

I walked into the main tomb and was awed by the grandeur of it all. In the middle of the room laid the final resting place of two very important people.

The first thing that struck me were the marble patterns on the walls. The translucent marble was stunning and the designs were all crafted by the thousands of craftsmen that came in from Persia, place where Mumtaz was born.

There, in the middle of the room, lay the only thing in the entire complex that was not symmetrical, the tombs. In the very middle was the queen. Her husband who built all of this for her rests in peace to her right. Surrounding them was a marble gate which was built at quite a far radius from the tombs. Tourists will only get a clear view of the tomb from the glass panel in front. The problem is that the panel is no so wide and a few people could easily block your view. Visitors are asked to walk around the tomb in a clockwise direction to control the traffic flow. Though the room was dark, it felt warm and romantic inside.

It is said that the Taj was built to look like the throne of god on the Day of Judgment. Indeed, being in this magnificent place feels like you’re about to enter heaven. As I walked out of the mausoleum, I began to reflect on life and the concept of love. Love, not only to a significant other, but to anyone really, is about true sacrifice for others. I left the place ready to see more of Hospitable India.

3 May 2010

The Writers Of The Future

Ok, I’ll be honest. I HAVE been slaking off on my blog. But I have a VERY REASONABLE excuse for that. I’ve been very busy cooking up something big for the next writing club term.
I'm not quite done with my Travel Writing Assignments yet so you might have to wait a little longer!

In the meantime, for writing club, we have to do this blog post about what we think of our fellow writers (which I was supposed to do a VERY long time ago), so that’s what I’ll be doing below. Without further delay:

Willa – I was amazed when I first met her at the interview. She used to live in the UK which is probably why her English is good and she has an English accent. I must say that she’s probably the dark horse of the club and that when competition comes, she can get us pretty easily. I find that though she’s quiet, she can really produce some quality work. Because our classrooms are far away and Becky takes care of the right wing of the school, I don’t really meet her often and I have yet to get to know her better!

Natasha – This girl popularly known as Sasha is one of the most energetic ones in the club! I was really surprised to find out that she goes to the same church as I do. That just goes to show how un-active I am at church. Well, she has always amazed me with the amount of effort she puts in into her essays! Though her English is a little behind compared to the others in the club, she works very hard to produce work of the same quality. As for her personality, it’s hard to ever find a frown on her face. She always lights up the spirit in our club meetings, something we all appreciate. The club has high hopes for her!

Karin – The Pilipino of the club never fails to amaze me! Her ambitions as a writer have surpassed my expectations. I remember when we met for the first time at the interview. I was amazed by her story of how she was first raised in Manila! She writes very descriptive narratives that are always enjoyable to read. She was probably born to make writing club. Her name even has the word “Novel” in it! She does a lot of writing club work when I have other people to chase after. She claims she’s a nerd and is proud of it, but I don’t see the nerd in her. But overall, she’s nice and helpful.

Erico – This guy was probably the first really good friend I made since I came to Laurensia, though the way I treat him in writing club doesn’t really show that. He’s got vision in life, something I really admire about him. It’s very clear what he wants to be and how he’s going to be it. Sometime, I kind of wish I was like him. He does his best in everything he does. Sometimes, the things he does can be a little quirky and odd, but that’s alright, no harm done. I’ve always seen a burning passion in his written word. He’s the best guy in the club (he’s the only other guy in the club) and I hope he keeps it up!

Becky – I chose her as the PIC for one very simple reason, she wants to be an author. Sure she has other dreams that she would really like to fulfill but her passion for writing stands out. What I love about her is the way she has clear goals in life, just like Eric, that’s why he’s her bro! As much as nothing gets in her way of reaching for the stars, she knows that we’ve got to live like were dying! She’s kind of one of the only students in school who I can speak English with and have no communication problems. Well, there a lot of qualities I admire in my PIC. The road shines brightly for her.